The Visit – It’s nice to see M. Night Shyamalan somewhat return to form by tackling a different kind of movie. The Visit was a solid hit at the box office, and deservedly so; it’s a really fun, clever found footage horror film. Shyamalan does away with the overwrought plot twists, the self-cameos, and the forced sense of grandeur that has plagued many of his more recent efforts. Instead, you get a streamlined, effective, creepy, old-fashioned thriller. And I absolutely love the way it all comes together in the end. Every time you think something is going to be more than it is, it’s not. That might not make sense when you’re reading it, but when you watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean. Definitely check this one out; I really enjoyed it.
Sicario – You’ve probably heard the effusive praise for Sicario by now. Led by terrific performances from Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin, it garnered massive critical acclaim, even though it failed to light up the box office. (Personally, I blame the film’s name. Just because the press notes reveal that Sicario means “hitman” doesn’t mean the average joe is going to know that, or care to look it up.) And while the film is much more of a dramatic thriller than a straight-up action film as some of the trailers would have you believe, it’s still really, really good. It takes a little while before the story starts to make sense, but once it does you’re pretty hooked, and the action scenes are pretty spectacular. I don’t know that I loved it as much as some critics seemed to have, but it is definitely worth watching.
The Walk – Joseph Gordon-Levit stars in this Robert Zemeckis film about Phillippe Petit, the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s. This film was dead on arrival at the box office, which is a shame because it’s fantastic. It’s equal parts biopic, comedy, and heist film, all punctuated by a white-knuckle climax that is a feat of visual derring-do. I know the tone of the film (which is decidedly light) bothered some people, but having seen the documentary Man on Wire (which tells the same story in documentary format), I can tell you that there’s no other way to tall Petit’s story; he’s a one-of-a-kind character and a light touch is necessary. I loved this film, and if you have the means to watch it in 3D (as it’s been released on 3D Blu-ray), I recommend you do so; the visuals are breathtaking. Check this one out.
True Detective: Season Two – Was True Detective: Season Two ever going to live up to the hype and acclaim of Season One? Absolutely not. Does that mean it’s as bad as the internet seems to think it is? Absolutely not. I actually liked Season Two of the show. Sure, there’s no replacing the fantastic performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, but people seem to forget that Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell are both very good actors, Farrell especially. Add Rachel McAdamas to the mix, and you’ve got a trio of fine performers. The mystery this time around is equally as compelling as the first season’s, and frankly I’m glad that the weirder/mystical elements of Season One are majorly downplayed here. It might not be as magical as Season One was, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time.
The Green Inferno – I had the chance to interview Eli Roth a few years ago, and he was hands down one of the nicest, most enthusiastic guys I’ve ever interviewed. I wish I enjoyed his films as much as I enjoyed him as a person. The Green Inferno is a film that could have been outstanding if it weren’t for Roth’s reliance on over-abundant amounts of gore. In the right hands, this could have been a horror/suspense masterpiece. The story follows a group of activist students protesting in the Amazon whose plane crashes, leaving them in the hands of the very natives they were trying to save. Who just happen to be sadistic cannibals. Honestly, I would have LOVED to have seen this film go the understated route, with all the carnage happening off screen and leaving the worst bits to your imagination. Not so with Eli Roth at the helm. While it features his signature first half-hour of character development, the rest of the film is brutal, bloody quagmire. Too much for me, I’m afraid.
Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse – Zombies versus boy scouts? Okay, why not? I love any film that tries to mash-up horror with comedy, and this one succeeds better than most. While it’s not really scary, focusing instead on the comedy side of things, I have to say that I really loved this movie. It’s a shame it was so poorly received at the box office, because it’s a lot to fun. I’ve really enjoyed young The Sheridan in films like Mud and Joe, and it’s nice to see him have a chance to tackle a project that’s not quite so heavy. I have the feeling that this one is a future cult classic in the making. Watch it now so you can be the one to introduce it to your friends.
Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser – It’s the sequel you didn’t know you needed. Probably because you didn’t. David Spade returns to reprise what I guess could be considered his signature role in this direct-to-video sequel. I never really loved the original Joe Dirt all that much, as it seemed like mostly a one-joke film. The second movie isn’t really all that different. It’s filled with the same low-brow humor, only this time it’s added an odd time travel element and a few bigger names to the cast, such as Patrick Warburton, Dennis Miller, and Mark McGrath. I guess if you like the first one, check this out, but other than that, it’s not really worth your time.
Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:
- Sleeping With Other People – Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie star in this decent little rom-com about a man and a woman (one a serial womanizer, one a constant cheater) who become friends and… surprise! They start to like each other! Who saw that coming? Regardless of the largely familiar plot, Sudeikis and Brie are likable actors, and the film has some funny moments. Not a comedy slam dunk, but not bad, either.
- Flesh and Bone – I have about as much interest in the world of ballet as I have in getting a root canal, so admittedly I wasn’t overly excited about Flesh and Bone going in. However, this Starz Network limited series is actually pretty good. It’s a hard drama that takes some heavy cues from Black Swan and any number of other dance-based movies, but it also firmly stakes out its own identity. With very strong performances from a cast that’s not driven by big-name stars, Flesh and Bone might just surprise you.
- Deathgasm – Horror-comedy is a tough genre to master, and while Deathgasm doesn’t succeed completely, it is a lot of fun. When high school metalheads find out that their metal music actually DOES worship Satan (or at least some lesser demons), all hell breaks loose… literally. There’s a good amount of carnage and gore, but the film does work hard to keep things light. It’s no Shaun of the Dead, but horror movie fans and metalheads will get a kick out of it.
- Infinitely Polar Bear – Mark Ruffalo stars with Zoe Saldana as a couple dealing with bi-polar disorder in this light-touch drama. Ruffalo is terrific as always as a father with Bi-polar disorder who ends up becoming the primary caretaker of his two young girls. The film is somewhat based on the real life of director Maya Forbes, and it’s that authenticity that makes the film ring true. Not for everyone, but an enjoyable little slice of moviemaking.
- Broad City: Season 2 – Originally a web series and now a Comedy Central Show, Broad City: Season 2 stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (who also created it) as they try to muscle in on the territory pioneered by shows like Workaholics or Girls. Basically, if you like pot smoking and lowest-common-denominator humor, you’ll like this show. Me, not so much.
- Battle for Skyark – A low-budget sic-fi actioner, this movie wants to be a cross between Elysium and The 100. Which it might be if it weren’t absolutely terrible. Bad acting, weak script, terrible special effects, poorly-constructed plot, you name it. This is pretty much everything that gives B-movies a bad name.
- Pedicab Driver, Big Bullet, Downtown Torpedoes – These three Asian action films are available exclusively through Warner Bros.’ print-on-demand service, The Warner Archive (www. warner archive.com.) While I wasn’t familiar with any of them beforehand, apparently Pedicab Driver has been in-demand on home video for several years, making this an exciting release for fans of the genre. It stars Sammo Hung, who gets to go up against Shaw Brother mainstay Lau Kar-Leung and World Kickboxing Association champion Billy Chow. Big Bullet is a 1990s action-film that sees a hard-nosed cop demoted to a squad of screw-ups who decides to go after the big bad guys anyway. The end result? Some amazing gun fights and chase scenes. Finally, Downtown Torpedoes (my favorite of the three) draws comparisons to Mission: Impossible on the back-of-the-box description, and rightfully so. It’s a fun, exciting adventure movie that has a definite feel of the M:I films.
- Captive – David Oyelowo delivers another blistering performance as a violent criminal who takes a young woman (an equally impressive Kate Mara) hostage. Now before you think this is just a straight up thriller, I should point out that the film then takes a twist as the pair find themselves seeking redemption through god. Yes, it’s a faith-based drama, but the performances make it worth watching, even if Christian films aren’t your cup of tea.
- Over Your Dead Body – Takashi Miike returns to the horror genre to the delight of his many fans, I’m sure. Honestly, I’ve only seen a few of his movies, and I haven’t really loved the ones I have partaken of. This one is a strange ghost story of sorts; not as visceral as Audition (the high-standard of Miike films), but not as coherent, either. There’s a lot more head scratching than there is heart-pounding.
- A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story – You might remember this story from the news cycles a few years back. This documentary tells the true story of Lizzie Velazquez, dubbed “the ugliest woman in the world” by the internet due to a disease she suffers that has left her unable to gain weight. It’s not an easy watch, but it is by turns heartbreaking and powerful.
- Memories of the Sword – I’m a little over the period action drama Asian film market by now, so Memories of the Sword is largely just another in a string of overwrought, under-paced films for me. That said, it does have some gorgeous cinematography and a few fight scenes that really stand out. It’s definitely a well-made film, I’m just really kind of tired of this genre.
- Adulterers – Supergirl‘s Mehcad Brooks and B-movie staple Sean Faris star in Adulterers, a psychological thriller that’s a little lighter on thrills than I would have liked. That said, it’s an enjoyable enough film for this genre that features pretty solid performances all around, plus a twist that isn’t entirely unexpected, but isn’t completely telegraphed, either.
- Wild Kratts: Australian Adventures – I have to say that — as far as kids shows go — The Wild Kratts is one of the better ones. It manages to combine animals and superhero-style adventures into one fun animated series that is both entertaining and educational. And, of course, not only do I find it enjoyable, but my kids also really like it, which is what’s really important. The show focuses on the Brothers Kratt, animal experts and adventurers, who use creature power suits to take on the traits of various animals and interact with them in their habitats. Along the way, a variety of villains, predators, or obstacles will show up, and the Kratt Brothers have to save the day. The show mixes in humor, action, and cool suit designs, plus it has a good supporting cast of characters that kids will like.
- Blood Lions – If the news story from last year about the American Dentist hunting the lion that had been stolen from a zoo got your blood boiling, you will definitely want to watch Blood Lions. This powerful documentary takes us into the world of illegal hunting and killing, and how things exactly like that event occur. Interesting stuff.
- Partners in Crime – This fun new adaptation of the works of Agatha Christie features two of her lesser known (but still known) characters, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, played excellently by David Walliams and Jessica Raine. Similar to America’s own Nick and Nora Charles, this dashing young couple makes time to solve murders in between bickering and loving. It’s a fun adventure, and I do love me some good Agatha Christie.
- Experimenter – The name Stanley Milgram might not mean much to you, but you’re probably familiar with his most controversial work. At Yale University in 1961, Milgram conducted experiments where everyday people were told they were administering electric shocks to a volunteer (he was an actor). Despite his increasing pain, they kept inducing the shocks simply because they were told to. It’s now one of the most famous psychological experiments of all time, and this film goes behind the man who created it. Peter Sarsgaard turns in his usual excellent performance as Milgram, and Jim Gaffigan surprises as the actor playing the victim. Worth a watch.
- Ancient Aliens: Season 8 – For my money, Ancient Aliens is an interesting but flawed show. I’ve been fascinated by UFO’s, aliens, and unsolved mysteries of that variety since I was a kid, so this was naturally of interest to me. This DVD release collects the first half of season seven, with the usual focus on Ancient Astronauts and other UFO-related materials. Ancient Aliens is interesting stuff, but as always, the lack of concrete answers can get frustrating, keeping this from being a show I can really enjoy.
- Condemned – I wish I had more of an opinion on this semi-zombie-ish film, but it really just falls into the “average” category for me. When a spoiled rich girl runs away and moves into an abandoned building filled with squatters to be with her boyfriend, a mysterious disease starts causing the inhabitants to… well, really, you know the rest, because we’ve seen this movie dozens of times before. It’s definitely not shy about the gore, and there are some tense moments, but the script and the acting don’t do the film any favors.
- The House Where Evil Dwells/Ghost Warrior – This Scream Factory two-fer offers up a duo of ghost-themed horror films, and both have a samurai theme. The House Where Evil Dwells features a vengeful samurai ghost and stars Doug McClure, Edward Albert and Susan George. I’ve seen better films, but I’ve also seen much worse. Ghost Warrior has a neat concept (frozen samurai warrior is brought back to life), but it’s hard to look past some of the cheesy ’80s trappings.
- Full of Grace – Everyone knows Mary was the mother of Jesus in the Bible, but what happened to her after Jesus was born? This movie, set ten years after Jesus’s resurrection, attempts to answer that question. I don’t really watch faith-based movies except for review purposes, and these biblical ones really aren’t my cup of tea, but if you’re looking for biblical programming, this one will do the job just fine.
- Wrecker – I’ve always had a soft spot for man vs. man-in-killer-vehicle movies, whether it be Duel or Joy Ride or The Hitcher (remake) or even the first half of Jeepers Creepers. So I sat down for Wrecker hoping for a fun girls-versus-truck thriller, and I was halfway rewarded. It definitely fits into that genre, but it suffers from poor direction and editing, and suspect acting at times. It’s not altogether terrible, but it’s not one I’ll watch again.
- Mercury Plains – I like Scott Eastwood (yes, Clint’s son), so I hope he finds his way out of the number of B-movies he keeps putting out (I’ve seen three come through in the last year alone.) Mercury Plains might be the strongest of the three, but that’s not saying too much. But Eastwood is a charismatic, likable, handsome leading man, so I hope he continues on his success from the Nicholas Sparks film The Longest Ride and makes his way into bigger and better movies.
- Little Dead Rotting Hood – Bianca A. Santos, Eric Balfour, and Romeo Miller (aka Lil’ Romeo) star in this so-bad-it’s-bad horror flick that you can skip. It’s too bad, because it looks like it had the potential to be a lot of fun, but it fails to live up to the promise of what is a relatively fun concept idea. Maybe die-hard fans of B-movies will enjoy it, but I think most people just won’t be impressed.
- Close Range – B-movie action king Scott Adkins stars as action-movie-name caricature Colton MacReady in this flick which is better than most Adkins films, although that really isn’t saying a lot. I do have a soft spot for Assault on Precinct 13 style action films, and this one fits squarely into that genre (man defends his family from attackers at their secluded ranch), and while the action is solid, the acting and script are typical of an Adkins flick. I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse.
- Stock Option – Okay, yes, this is as cliched of a rom-com as they come, but despite not having a recognizable face in the cast, I was surprised by how not-bad this film was. The story follows a down-on-his-luck homeless stockbroker who saves the life of a famous model one day. She takes him home, cleans him up, and the rest is rom-com history. I’m not saying it’s a great film, but my expectations were low enough that I was somewhat pleasantly surprised.